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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die schöne Müllerin D795 (1823)
Florian Boesch (baritone); Malcolm Martineau (piano)
rec. 20-24 May 2013, All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London
ONYX 4112 [62:45]

A recording of Die Schöne Müllerin by a baritone is instantly problematic. The lower tessitura and downward transposition can compromise the listener’s entrenched image of the protagonist as a vulnerable lovelorn youth and instead present him as a more robust, masculine entity. Furthermore, the swift semi-quaver piano accompaniment, especially in the earlier, more turbulent songs, can be more suggestive of thunderous ocean depths than of babbling brooks.
 
Nonetheless, other lower voices have successfully negotiated this most celebrated of song-cycles. I have particularly enjoyed Jorma Hynninen’s 1988 account (review). This recording was made a couple of months after an acclaimed Wigmore Hall recital. As long as you are receptive to a baritone version, it must now be regarded in the same light as the superb Winterreise on the same label by the same pairing of artists.
 
Florian Boesch’s voice is intrinsically beautiful: virile but still youthful and sappy. This helps counteract the danger of his sounding too mature. He is capable of great tonal and dynamic variety. Time and again, he lightens his voice and uses a ppp mezza voce, even though he deploys great reserves of power for climactic moments as in Die böse Farbe. Vibrato is used sparingly, sometimes wholly suppressed then applied only to enhance the emotion. The intensity of his interpretation is heightened by his wonderful, pellucid diction.
 
Martineau matches the singer with pianism of surprising violence, emphasising syncopations and judiciously inserting sudden little juddering gaps in the line without ever sounding crude. He positively hammers out the frantic accompaniment in Ungeduld so that the piano’s voice intrudes like the mutterings of a demented obsessive. Beside this the unabashed melodic Romanticism of the following song, Morgengruß, remains tainted by the lad’s mental torment. The closing line of Die Liebe Leid und Sorgen, so delicately intoned by Boesch in an otherworldly pianissimo, resonates like a funeral dirge. Singer and pianist have deliberately curtailed the breaks between individual songs in order to heighten contrasts between songs and maintain tension, suggesting the mounting panic assailing the despairing lover. The first two verses of Trockne Blumen are delivered in a halting, staccato manner as if the boy is mesmerised by his grief. The mood is sustained through the last three songs until his voice fades away to be replaced by that of the brook itself singing its sombre lullaby to the deceased soul. For this, Boesch drains his voice of emotion and sings with deliberate restraint and seamless legato to suggest the re-absorption of the lover’s essence into the natural world.
 
German texts with an English translation are provided in the booklet. The sound balance and breadth are impeccable. The faint but constant tweeting of the churchyard sparrows in the background is in fact no distraction but rather adds to the bucolic atmosphere. 

Ralph Moore 

Masterwork Index: Die Schöne Müllerin